Puppy Socialization: Why, When, and How to Do It Right
- Puppy socialization begins with the breeder and continues with you.
- Expose your puppy to different people, places, sights, and sounds.
Socializing your puppy is the key to ensuring you have a happy, confident, and well-adjusted dog. Below, learn the best time for puppy socialization, how to do it right, and why it is important.
When to Socialize Your Puppy
During your puppy’s first three months of life, they will experience a socialization period that will permanently shape their future personality and how they will react to their environment as an adult dog. Gently exposing them to a wide variety of people, places, and situations now makes a huge, permanent difference in their temperament.
When you buy a puppy from a responsible breeder, the socialization process should start before you even bring your pet home. Gentle handling by the breeder in the first several weeks of your puppy’s life is helpful in the development of a friendly, confident dog. As early as three weeks of age, puppies may begin to approach a person who is passively observing them, so having a knowledgeable breeder who encourages a positive experience with people – adults and children — will help shape the puppy’s adult behavior. As their puppies develop, good breeders allow them to experience safe inside and outside environments, car rides, crates, sounds, and smells.
Why Socialize Your Puppy
The idea behind socialization is that you want to help your puppy become acclimated to all types of sights, sounds, and smells in a positive manner. Proper socialization can prevent a dog from being fearful of children, for example, or of riding in a car. It will help them develop into a well-mannered, happy companion.
Having a dog who is well-adjusted and confident can even go as far as to save their life one day. According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, improper socialization can lead to behavior problems later in life. The organization’s position statement on socialization reads: “Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age.” Start taking your dog out to public places once your veterinarian says it is safe, and they will learn how to behave in a variety of situations and to enjoy interacting with different people.
How to Socialize Your Puppy
As mentioned earlier, your breeder will start the socialization process. When the puppy comes home with you, your job is to keep the process going. Here are basic steps to follow:
- Introduce the puppy to new sights, sounds, and smells: To a puppy, the whole world is new, strange, and unusual, so think of everything they encounter as an opportunity to make a new, positive association. Try to come up with as many different types of people, places, noises, and textures as you can and expose your puppy to them. That means, for instance, having them walk on carpet, hardwood, tile, and linoleum floors, meet a young and old person, someone in a wheelchair or using a cane, a person with a beard, wearing sunglasses or a hood, and using an umbrella. Think of it as a scavenger hunt.
- Make it positive: Most importantly, when introducing all of these new experiences to your puppy, make sure they are getting an appropriate amount of treats and praise. As a result, the pet will associate what they are being exposed to with the feeling of seeing something new being a fun experience. Break treats into small pieces that will be easy for your puppy to digest. Also, try to remain calm — dogs can read our emotions. So if you are nervous when introducing your puppy to an older dog, for example, your pet will be nervous, too, and may become fearful of other dogs in the future.
- Involve the family: By having different people take part in the socialization process, you continuously move the puppy out of their comfort zone. That lets the dog know that they might experience something new, no matter who they are with. Make it a fun game for kids by having them write down a list of everything new the puppy experienced that day while with them, such as “someone in a baseball cap” or “a police siren.”
- Take baby steps: Try to avoid doing too much, too fast. For instance, if you want your puppy to get accustomed to being handled by multiple people they do not know, start with a few family members and slowly integrate one stranger, then two, and so on. Starting this process by taking your puppy to a huge party or a very busy public place can be overwhelming and result in a fearful response to groups of strangers in the future.